My STEP project was professional voice over training from November 2016 to May 2017 with Big Voice Productions in Gahanna, OH. This training was broad, including vocal exercises, recording in studio, business strategies and post-production in Adobe Audition. Through this training, I realized that voice over work is more than the passing interest I previously thought it to be. It’s a legitimate way to make a living doing something I genuinely enjoy. As I progressed through the lessons, I became increasingly enamored with the idea of pursuing a career as a professional voice talent after graduation, which contradicted my previous ideas of where my career would go.
I consider myself a very technical person. My interests have always favored tinkering with anything electrical or mechanical over any kind of creative pursuit. I have always preferred the logical to the abstract, rational to emotional and certain to uncertain. Thus, I ignorantly brushed off the arts as frivolous activities with little value beyond entertainment.
But this training changed that completely. Through forcing myself to dig deep and bring some emotion to this training, I feel like I freed the artistic part of myself that I was suppressing before. I learned that ambiguity is okay sometimes and that there is great value in simply bringing one’s full passion to a creative activity regardless of the outcome. Voice over training was relieving, empowering and challenging all at once, and it is undoubtedly one of the main highlights of my college experience.
The greatest challenge I had to overcome during this training was letting my guard down enough to perform. It’s impossible to deliver an effective, energetic voice over when you’re emotionally disconnected from the copy in front of you. My instructor, Ron, did not hesitate to criticize my lack of energy or for simply reading off the paper. He forced me to break down every word I was reading and think about what that word meant not just to me, but to I was talking to. Paraphrasing Ron, “the way your audience feels is always more important than the way you feel. Speak to them, not at them.” That was a really eye-opening statement because it made me think about the times in real life when I spoke “at” people instead of to them without really caring to understand how they felt about what whatever I was saying. With every piece of copy, whether it was for a commercial, announcement, audiobook excerpt etc. Ron made me come up with a very specific profile and back story for one person representing the audience. The point when I actually understood this was when I was lost doing a read for a pick-up truck commercial in an awkward, passionless monotone.
“Matt, who are you talking to?” Ron interrupted me somewhat condescendingly.
“Uhhh, people in the market for a new F150?”
“Not people, person. Who are you talking to?”
“Uhhh, A middle-aged guy with some money in a suburban or rural area?”
“Who is this guy? What does he do? Where does he live? What’s his name?”
“Steve, he’s a master autobody technician, 50 years old from Delaware, OH…”
“Talk to Steve.”
At first I thought this technique was a stupid gimmick to help people ignorant of an ad’s target audience, but as I did my next reading it became immediately clear that I had been approaching the copy from entirely the wrong angle. I thought I was announcing something to a group that was already at least somewhat interested in buying an F150. The real point of the ad was to convince a single hypothetical guy like “Steve” that he could swing the payments on a new truck. To accomplish this goal, I had to connect with Steve. That’s why the backstory was so important. It’s impossible to connect with anyone if you know nothing about them. Someone’s name is the essence of their personhood, a pointer to the array of everything that makes up their identity. By reducing my audience to one person and making that one person real, the tone, pitch and word emphasis in my reads naturally became less rigid and guarded and more aligned with the goal of the ad.
College is a place for people to develop themselves into knowledgeable, well-rounded and productive members of society, and I feel that voice over training has contributed more to that purpose than any of my technical, career focused classes. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in such a unique experience and gain a new perspective on the world. Not only was it fun and challenging, it was necessary.